The US Marine Corps took a step forward in its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities with the delivery of the first MQ-9A Extended Range (ER) drone to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Training Squadron 2 (VMUT-2) last March 18, 2024.

Part of MAGTF Unmanned Expeditionary (MUX) Program

The arrival of the first MQ-9A ER drone marks the initial delivery under a contract between the Marines and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) for eight MQ-9A ERs as part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Expeditionary (MUX) Program.

“It’s exciting to make this first delivery to VMUT-2, which continues to build the relationship between GA-ASI, the USMC, and NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command),” said Patrick Shortsleeve, GA-ASI’s vice president of DoD Strategic Development.

He highlighted the company’s longstanding partnership with the Marines and VMUT-2’s role in training drone pilots, a crucial aspect of the Corps’ growing organic UAV capability.

MQ-9A Reaper drone
MQ-9A UAV (Image source: DVIDS)

Extended Range, Enhanced Capabilities

The MQ-9A ER boasts significant enhancements over its predecessor, the MQ-9 Reaper.

Developed from the earlier MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper entered service in 2007. While the two drones share some similarities in design, the MQ-9 is a larger and more powerful aircraft. Its turboprop engine allows it to carry significantly more weaponry and fly at much higher speeds and altitudes compared to the Predator.

This firepower and endurance make the MQ-9A a true “hunter-killer” UAV, capable of both surveillance and precision strikes.

Field-installable wing-mounted fuel pods and reinforced landing gear extend their flight time beyond 30 hours, providing commanders with a persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) asset for extended operations.